Banned militant groups were out in force again in Punjab. In Rawalpindi, a rally supposedly against ‘unconstitutional activities’ of Ahmadis turned into a demonstration of sectarian hate as speakers demanded that Ahmadis stop all religious activities including worshipping in their own properties. Participants sent a loud message of hate and violence as they waved the flags of militant groups and carried posters of convicted murderer Mumtaz Qadri. Despite being attended by banned militant groups, the rally took place in the shadow of GHQ.
In Multan, another militant rally took place. At this one, militant groups and religious parties stood shoulder to shoulder and even threatened to attack parliament if their demands are not met. This event was attended not only by militant leaders like Hafiz Saeed, founder of Lashkar-e-Taiba, but Punjab politicians like Sheikh Rasheed and even a former DG ISI, Hamid Gul.
In December, an illegal rally took place in Lahore under the banner ‘Difa-e-Pakistan’. The rally included banned militants groups that preach hatred for minorities and carry out sectarian attacks against innocent Pakistanis. This rally was no surprise. It had been planned for weeks, publicised openly with banners and posters alongside flags of Lashkar-e-Taiba. Where was the Punjab government then?
One of the key organisers of the Difa-e-Pakistan movement is the founder of banned sectarian militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi Malik Ishaq. The extremist militant leader has been in and out of jail, but even when he is behind bars, he has received a monthly stipend from the government of Punjab.
Punjab has a growing militant problem. This is not a problem of hyper-conservative or even extremist views growing in the province. It’s not even a problem of extremist groups starting to organise in Punjab. Those problems have come and already past. Extremists have been organised, and now the organisations are boldly taking to the streets in the shadow of GHQ. They are recruiting and demonstrating in the backyard of Punjab Provincial Assembly. Each time banned groups hold another rally, another recruiting drive without receiving the slightest remark from Punjab authorities, the message they receive is that they are not only tolerated, but silently approved.
A common refrain at political rallies is the need to defend the nation’s sovereignty. These remarks are typically followed by demands to close NATO supply lines, to reject MFN status for India, or to take some other action against a perceived external threat. Even the internal threats are typically discussed as ethnic groups like MQM or BLA. Meanwhile, extremist militants are holding rallies and spreading messages of sectarian hate and threatening to ‘besiege’ the state if their demands are not met. These same groups are carrying out armed attacks against innocent Pakistani citizens. Their leaders are receiving support from politicians and former intelligence officers. This is the real threat to the nation’s sovereignty. When will we take notice of it?